Little known in the West, Shenute is today revered by Copts as one of the greatest saints. The recent Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church (pope for 41 years, 1971-2012) was the third to bear his name. His energetic and passionate personality emerges clearly from a Life attributed to his successor, Besa, and the large body of writings the saint himself left. ( see bottom of page)

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In Coptic, Shenute's name appears as;

Five letters come from the Greek alphabet, which can be transliterated in different ways. The first and fifth letters are Coptic additions (see Coptic language)

Variant spellings include Shenouda and Shenoute.

The first letter becomes sh, or ch in French

The fourth and fifth letters become u or ou

The sixth letter becomes t or d, the final letter is e or a

Shenute, detail of image in ms. Pierpont Morgan M 604, ninth century?, from Hamouli (Leroy 1974).

A famous relief sculture with carved with this name may not be old (see Maguire 2009 note 30 on p.20.)

Two earlier wall paintings of Shenute have recently been discovered: one in the Funerary Chapel of the White Monastery (Bolman et al. 2010 figs. 9 and 10), a second in a niche of the north lobe of the Church of the Red Monastery (Bolman 2009 fig. 1).

born near modern Akhmim, across the river from the White Monastery Besa 3
as a young child placed in the care of his uncle, the monk Pjol Besa 5
entered the White Monastery at Atripe, near modern Sohaj, around 371 Besa mentions no specific dates, and scholars differ
became abbot c. 385  
built the church of the monastery Besa 30-32
attended the Church Council held at Ephesus (on the Turkish coast), 431 Besa 128; (Shenute 1991)
developed size and power of monastery Besa 1983, v,5; Hahn 1991
fought paganism, destroying books and idols Besa. 81, 83-84, 88., van der Vliet 1993

sheltered refugees, maybe 20,000, during an invasion (see White Monastery, bottom)

(The Arabic version of Besa's text, later and probably less reliable, gives that number, and details about their care.)

Besa, 89-90
defended the poor from abuse Besa 76, 81; Timbie 1986.
died in 464/5, said to be 118 years of age Besa 175

Shenute's writings. ms. Louvre E1061, ninth century? from White Monastery, (Bosson and Aufrére 1999, #44.)

Shenute was the first person to write extensively in the Coptic Language.

Canons addressed to his monks Emmel 1993
Discourses addressed to wider audiences


Emmel 1993





" a skilled writer of Coptic, steeped in the language of the Bible, and
conscious of being gifted with
the insight and righteousness of a prophet."


Emmel 1999

"aucun auteur n'a su autant que Chénouté utiliser les resorces de la syntaxe copte,á la fois complexe et subtile, du lexique imagé et fécond hérité de l'égyptien et enrichi par l'apport de grec, pour déployer une rhétorique qui fait les délices et les affres des traducteurs."

("No other author knew as well as Shenute how to use the resources of Coptic syntax, both complex and subtle, and of its vivid and fecund vocabulary, inherited from Egyptian and .enriched by the contribution of Greek, in order to display a rhetoric that is the delight and dread of translators." )


1999, 216

Stephen Emmel, 2008, sketches Shenute's life, stressing how much we have come to know about the Abbot.
"Shenoute's Place in the History of Monasticism"
Caroline T. Schroeder, 2007, discusses Shenute's life and achievements in terms of belief in essential relationships between the individual human body, the body of the community, the architectural body of his church and the Body of Christ:

Monastic Bodies: Discipline and Salvation in Shenoute of Atripe.
Reviews of Schroeder's book: Heike Behlmer, Elizabeth S. Bolman